Student loan debt has grown to epic proportions over the past few years and has had troubling effects on new graduates and the economy. But now it appears that higher education institutions are finally catching on to the problem. Recent reports show that public university tuition has had its lowest increase in over 30 years.
While this is positive news, new and current college students still have to put in due diligence to keep their student loan debt as low as possible. As mentioned in Reuters, this lower increase “does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable, but it does mean that the rapid growth of recent years did not represent a ‘new normal’ for annual price increases.” So how can you keep high college costs from being your new normal? Read on to find out.
Keeping Your Costs Down
Whether you’re about to start college or are already in the midst of your college career, there are many creative things you can do to keep your tuition costs low. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1) Cost Benefit Analysis of Your Program
If you know your desired major, then you’re starting at a great advantage. Find out which schools rank highest for your area of study and then compare their tuition costs and job placement statistics. Is the total cost to students higher than other schools? Do graduates often get jobs in the field you’re interested in? You can use this information to see which will benefit your more in the long run.
The sooner you start working and the higher the income you start with after college, the better baseline you start out with for a lifetime of higher earning. Choosing a school that has a higher rate of job placement for your expertise could lead to better professional opportunities and thus more income sooner. This gives you both the ability to pay down your debt faster and starts you off on the best foot possible.
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And though choosing a school based on its reputation might be tempting, be wary of paying for prestige. At the end of the day, actually getting to work in your dream field (and making a supporting salary) is more important than being an alum of a certain school.
2) Start with an Associate’s Degree
If you’ve done your cost benefit analysis and your best option is an out of state school, see if they have a transfer program in correlation with a public school in your state. For example, some universities partner to offer associate’s degree programs which will help you transfer to other schools after receiving the associate’s degree while keeping your in-state tuition as you pursue your bachelor’s degree.
This is a great option if you’re not sure of your preferred major. You can receive an Associate’s Degree in general studies and cover your core class requirements. Then you’ll have a better idea of what major you want to pursue and the right school to transfer into. Once you transfer, you can hit the ground running and still graduate within four years since your core classes will be covered.
3) Test Out of As Many Courses as Possible
Taking AP courses in high school is a great way to obtain college credits and save money before you even start. However, if you’re already in school, you can still test out of some courses. This is especially useful for knocking out some of those core requirements that aren’t related to your major. So if you found that you did very well in Spanish in high school for example, go ahead and try to test out of it. If you don’t pass, then you don’t lose anything by trying. If you do, then you’ve just completed your language requirement at no cost to you.
4) Take Summer Classes
Graduating early or on time is one of the key components to keeping tuition costs down. Not only does graduating later force you to pay for another semester or year, it also forces you to do so at a higher cost. While the rate of tuition increase was the lowest in decades, it’s important to note that it’s still increasing.
Taking a few courses over the summer could ultimately save you thousands of dollars in tuition and interest on student loan debt. Bonus: summer classes take place in a short period of time and usually one or two per session is the max. This means you can really dive into the subject without balancing it with many other classes and even get closer to your classmates as you work on this intensive level.
5) Seek out Internships that Pay and/or Give College Credit
Internships have gotten a bad wrap over the years. Many students and new grads were exploited by companies claiming to offer real-world experience but keeping the interns doing only menial labor such as never-ending coffee runs and hours at the copier. However, the right internship can benefit students greatly by offering valuable experience, college tuition, and sometimes even pay.
Talk to the head of your department and career services to see if there is an internship like this available in your field of study. If you find one that you can learn from and that benefits you financially (either through pay, college credit, or both) then go for it. Just remember that, like any college class, an internship is purely what you make of it. Find out how you can add value from day one and you’re more likely to build a great resume – even if the majority of your time is spent at the copier.
The fact that higher education institutions are lowering their tuition increases is a bright spot in the middle of a tough storm. By following these basic tenets (and finding even more that might work for your specific situation) then you can be sure your finances won’t suffer unreasonably while you work to achieve your career goals.
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